The Perfect Run

Chapter 130
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Chapter 130

Livia had foreseen this moment, but never thought she would live to see it.

The Augusti villa's marble terrace was almost entirely silent, as Enrique Manada signed the fifty-page long treaty. Wyvern andLeo Hargaves sat on his side of the table, while Vulcan and Uncle Neptune assisted Livia. Len Sabino completed the council,looking quite graceful in a summer dress, while Luigi kindly served cocktails and coffee. Eugéne-Henry, that spoiled cat, nappednear the pool with his belly exposed.

To Livia’s eyes, the new chairman of Dynamis seemed to blur, as multiple possibilities aligned with his real self. Six phantomhands followed his motions. All of them used different signatures, but they signed anyway.

"It is done," Enrique said before closing the document, some other possibilities opening their mouths after the deed was done. "Ithus officially announce the creation of the New European Republic."

Dynamis had officially ceased to exist, as did the Augusti’s empire. A new structure would rise from their ashes, greater andbetter than the sum of its parts.

"The United States of Europe would have sounded better though," Leo Hargraves said. His presence still made Livia and heruncle uneasy, but he would soon serve as their go-between with the newborn Republics of Bavaria and Denmark in the north.Though the seer would never quite get along with her mother's murderer, reconciliation was the order of the day.

Gentle Len smiled sheepishly. "No, it wouldn’t have. Sounded good, | mean."Livia hadn't seen a single possibility where she supported that alternate name.

"| already contacted the French, and they have shown interest in joining us," the seer explained. By which she meant that theywould inevitably join the new union, though they would grumble about it first. The French always complained, no matter thetimeline. "I believe we could unify all of Western Europe within the next two years."

"| never thought | would see that day," Uncle Neptune said, eyeing Hargraves and Manada warily. "Nor that we would end upsitting around the same table without a fight.”

"Things change," Enrique replied, before joining his hands. "Though | do wonder why the architect behind this conference didn'tshow up."

Livia straightened up on her chair. "He left this morning, and he didn't tell me where."

. | couldn't find him either," Len admitted. "I thought he was with Fortuna and the others, but... no."

Livia didn't need a reminder. Fortuna and her boyfriend intended to escort Alchemo to Denmark, so he might cure Mathias’mother of her neural illness. She knew he would succeed, but her best friend would remain abroad for months.

Livia missed Fortuna’s presence already. Felix and Narcinia intended to follow her too; the former as a prelude to joining theCarnival full-time, the latter as part of her quest to find out more about her birth parents.

"| still can't believe she chose to call herself Lucky Girl," Vulcan snickered. "That's the laziest superhero name I've heard yet, andthat includes yours, Laura."

"You have a point," her former partner took the remark in stride. "Wyvern was a Dynamis brand. We should think of somethingelse.”

Vulcan squinted, as she grabbed a drink. "We?""| hoped we could form a duo again." Wyvern cleared her throat at Vulcan's hard gaze. "Or at least, give it a try."Vulcan wordlessly sipped her drink with a sour face.

Wyvern awkwardly shifted on her seat, and Enrique spared her further discomfort. "I've agreed to your proposal about RustTown's renovation, and to give Miss Sabino complete autonomy on that front," he informed Livia. "The Meta-Gang members whosubmitted to treatment will join the program, and your donation will cover seventy percent of the budget."

"It might have come from drug money, but these funds will serve a higher cause now," Livia replied with a nod. Finally, she coulduse her father's ill-gotten resources to do good.

Rust Town's denizens would only be the first to benefit from them. Livia intended to fully fund a Think Tank of Geniuses to helprejuvenate the Earth. The Architect would get to build her self-sustaining cities, Dr. Tyrano's knowledge would be directedtowards developing better healthcare, and Vulcan would equip a peacekeeping force to neutralize the Genome warlordsravaging the countryside.

Maybe in time they would introduce Mechron's safe Elixir knockoffs and give everyone the chance to gain superpowers. But thatwould wait until after Europe had stabilized.

"Why me?" Len asked with a frown, her fingers fidgeting. "Why put me in charge?"

“Because you have lived among the locals and seen their struggles," Enrique replied. "You understand their needs better than |do from my ivory tower. We bear the responsibility for Rust Town's current state, so | don't expect that we will prove adequate atresolving its issues."

“And you have more than earned our trust, Len," Livia added with a bright smile, knowing it would reassure the Genius. Afterfacing so many trials together, the seer almost considered the underwater Genius as a sister-in-law. "You have done more forthis place and its orphans than anyone else. You should get recognition for your efforts."

|..." Len cleared her throat, before offering a thankful nod. "I shall prove worthy of that trust. | swear. For the people of RustTown."

The rest of the meeting was spent ironing out details about the new order of things, though Livia more or less zoned out. Shehad already predicted how things would unfold, and so spoke on autopilot. Still, she would rather take that boring, butconstructive monotony over a bad surprise.

“Miss Augusti, a question before | leave," Leo Hargraves said, and Livia already predicted what he would say before he evenopened his fiery mouth. "How is he doing?"

Livia didn't need to see the future to understand who he was referencing. "My father is..." She cleared her throat. "Alive."

"That's better than he deserves," Wyvern said harshly. "He should be imprisoned in a cell at the bottom of the sea, like hislieutenants."

"My brother is already in a cell," Uncle Neptune replied with a scowl. "One he will never escape."Livia glanced at a window on the villa's second floor.

Her father was watching the scene through the glass, sitting in a wheelchair. Or at least his eyes gazed at the garden, while hismind wandered elsewhere.

Sometimes, he apologized to Livia, to her mother, to the world. Mostly, he remained silent, or sobbed. Though the body endured,the proud, powerful warlord whom Livia had known all her life had perished in France. Only his ghost remained, trapped inabroken, indestructible body.

Her father would rather have died than live like this, weak and catatonic. And... she knew he would get his wish in less than twoyears. His daughter had seen it across multiple possibilities. Janus Augusti had triumphed over many powerful foes, but in theend, he couldn't outrun cancer.

In her sleep, Livia had dreamed that her father would set aside his criminal ways, seek repentance, and live the rest of his daysin peace. It had been a sweet dream, and she had felt great sorrow upon waking up.

Reality wasn't the ideal ending she had dreamed of, but it was an outcome that she was happy with nonetheless. Ryan had kepthis promise and spared her father. She couldn't blame her boyfriend for fulfilling her wish in an unexpected way.

Livia would care for her father for the little time he had left, and mourn for him afterward.

But she wouldn’t pity him.

"| see," Hargraves replied. He understood that Livia's father had paid for his crimes. "In that case, | will take my leave too.""| believe it is the first time that your Carnival leaves a city with more members than it arrived with," Enrique noted.

The Living Sun nodded. "I will take that as a good sign, and | know our new recruits will prove themselves. Atom Cat will do verywell, and the Panda has his heart in the right place."

"I'm still sad to see Felix go," Wyvern said. "He was a good element."

"He was," Livia agreed, though not without some regrets of her own. Though she had moved on from their relationship, she stillconsidered Felix a close friend. Someone with his resolve would have helped make New Rome a better place, but Liviaunderstood that her ex-boyfriend would only truly feel happy on the road, fighting the evils of the world. Felix was born to becomea wandering knight, not a nation-builder.

Enrique's group soon left after a few handshakes, leaving Livia alone with Len and her bodyguards. "Fuck her," Vulcan said,once Wyvern was out of earshot. "Fuck her better-than-you attitude.”

"You will get to pick the name," Livia pointed out.

"Fuck you too, Nostradamus," the weapon-builder replied. "It's only because you warned me of Daddy Dearest’s intentions that |haven't shot you yet."

“And because I'm a good boss too?" Livia asked mirthfully, having given Vulcan complete autonomy and a large budget topursue her intellectual interests.

"Don't push it." Vulcan put her drink aside. "Would you even be okay with this?"

“We have become a single government,” Uncle Neptune said, while examining his copy of the European accords. “It doesn’tmatter which ministry you choose.”

“We are all friends now," Livia pointed out with a smile.

"You disgust me," Vulcan replied before turning at Len. "Hey, Underdiver."

"Uh, yes?" Len asked with a frown.

“Let's go to my workshop afterward. I've got a great idea, but I'll need a smart assistant to improve it."

Livia gave it a fifty percent chance that Vulcan and Wyvern would end up forming another duo, and forty that they would create anew superhero organization. Beneath all the rage, bitterness, and her inferiority complex, a part of Vulcan had never truly givenup on making the world a better place. Her pride would always come first, but now that Wyvern gave her the respect she felt thatshe deserved, the short-tempered Genius would mellow out in time.

Len's newfound idealism would have a good influence on her too, making Vulcan realize that even her weapon-making powercould be used for constructive purposes.

Humans needed to be at least two others to lift each other up.

“It's really happening,” Uncle Neptune said, as he slouched on his chair. Though he looked very much like Livia’s father, theexpression couldn't be more different. Uncle Neptune was amiable and cautious, with the look of a loving grandfather; while Dadhad been a grim and implacable patriarch. “I’ve prayed for this deal for years, and | still half expect it to blow up in our face.”

“It won't,” Livia reassured him. 𝓂𝓃𝓿.𝓂

“| always told your father that we should go legit, even when we were a normal mob,” her uncle said. “That way of life, it onlyever ends up with a coffin or a cell; no matter how powerful you are. Now my brother is dead inside, and my sister imprisoned. |feel like my dreams and nightmares came true all at once.”

Livia knew her uncle was sorely tempted to raise Len’s underwater prison from the depths and free her aunt. In a fewpossibilities, he almost did.

But he never went through with these plans.“Auntie doesn’t want to talk to us,” Livia said with regrets. “Not since we refused to break her out.”“Can't blame her,” her uncle replied with a sigh. “But better jailed than dead. Do you think she will come around one day?”

“Maybe,” Livia admitted, though the possibilities she had seen were remote. Deep down, her aunt loved to kill. It would take heryears of introspection before she could even begin to improve as a person. “But not before many, many years.”

Neptune sighed. “It all feels so bittersweet.”

“Why did you go along with these reforms?” Livia asked her uncle. She predicted a few answers, but she wanted to hear histhoughts from his own mouth. “You never agreed with Father, but you always went along with his wishes.”

“Because | loved him, and | thought | could curb his worst ideas,” Uncle Neptune replied with a shrug. “The family that puts thefamily first will always prevail over the family that puts the whims of its members first. | love Janus, and my sister too... but you’reour family’s future, Livia. | think the path you chose is the only one where you'll live a long and happy life. Janus wouldn't,couldn't see it, but | do. We old people should make sure younger generations live a better life than our own, not repeat thesame mistakes.”

Livia smiled, and bowed. “Thank you, Uncle. For supporting me in these difficult times.”

“It's only been two weeks and a half since Janus fell, and it feels like years already,” her uncle said with a shrug. “There’s still alot of things to do ahead of us. Enemies to fight, roads to build. But you can count on me.”

Livia kissed him on the cheek, her uncle smiling in response.

Before she left with Vulcan, Len wanted to ask the seer a question. "Livia...""You worry about Ryan," Livia guessed.

"| can't find him, and he doesn't answer on his phone. I'm... I'm worried."

"It's alright," Livia reassured her. Though her knight spent his nights with her, he usually wandered off in the morning to runerrands. Or side-quests as he called them.

This time though, she had a pretty good intuition of where he had gone. "I think | know where he is."It was May 31st, and the sun set on New Rome.

Sitting at the edge of the promontory, Ryan thoughtfully gazed at the horizon. His legs dangled in the void, while his loyalPlymouth Fury waited behind him with his mask and hat on the hood. The wind brushed against his cashmere suit and his nakedface, and his eyes wandered from one district to the next.

Though it had changed, the city looked the same at first glance. All dazzling neon lights and towering skyscrapers, the gloriouspromise of a new future for mankind. He had spent the whole day marveling at its beauty, watching people living out their lives tothe tune of his Chronoradio.

For a full day in a long, long time, Ryan had stopped to enjoy the moment and think. To ponder what he should do next.

He heard a car stop behind him, and peeked over his shoulder. Livia stepped out of a Mercedes, wearing the same red dress ason their first date. The sunlight reflected on her platinum silver hair, and illuminated the smile on her face.

“How did you know | would be here?" Ryan asked his girlfriend with a knowing grin. "I thought you couldn't see me, MissAugusti?"

"| can't see you, Mr. Romano," she replied with a playful tone, “but | still know how you think."

"| stopped at this promontory when | first came to New Rome, many loops ago,” Ryan explained, as she walked to his side. "Iheard it was the best view of the city."

“You were lied to," she replied. "Our house has the best sight."Our house, Ryan thought. Two simple words, and yet they meant so much.

"| thought | would come back to this place after | completed my Perfect Run,” Ryan admitted. “I imagined that | would take onegood look at the city, go back to my car, and then drive into the sunset towards new adventures. Maybe with Len in thebackseat."

She joined her hands together with a hint of anxiety. "Will you leave?"

"No," Ryan replied, to her relief. "| was only ever comfortable on the road, mostly because that's all | ever knew... but that wasn’twhat | wanted.”

“You came for Len. For a friend.”

“| would have been happy if | could at least have one friend who could remember me. | spent centuries on a comedy roadshow,trying to fill the void with entertainment. Trying to stave off the loneliness. And now...”

“Now you're no longer alone,” Livia said, as she knelt at his side. “And you shall never be again.”

“No. And though the universe is vast and full of wonders... What | want above everything is to spend time with those | love. | seethat now.” He chuckled. “I guess I'm old enough to settle down."

She giggled like a young maid. "You sound like my uncle, Ryan.""I'm eight hundred and sixty years older than you, young woman. I'm a cradle robber.""Will Grandpa Romano let me climb on his lap then?" She asked him with a coy look.

"Sure, Papa Beaver will tell you a tale." Livia climbed on Ryan's lap, and he put his arms around her. "You've gotten a littleheavier."

Livia looked cute when offended. "Are you calling me fat?""It's fine, you started a little too skinny," Ryan replied before kissing her on the neck. "But you should stop overeating."

"| will," she said while resting her head against his shoulder. "The stressful days are over now that we've hammered out aconstitution. Things will slowly settle into a new, peaceful status quo."novelbin

"How peaceful?" Though Ryan enjoyed the current peace, he wouldn't mind a little action in the future.

“As quiet as a republic of Genomes can be... at least for the next few years." She rolled her shoulders. "Afterward, who knows? |foresee dangerous threats, but whether or not these distant possibilities will materialize or not, we won't face them alone.”

“About that, | want to talk about the 'we' part." Ryan looked into his girlfriend's eyes. He had thoughtfully considered something,and he wanted to broach the subject with her. "Livia?"

"Yes, Ryan?" she asked, a little anxious."Will you marry me?"She responded with a giggle, her face turning as red as a Communist flag. "Ryan, you already proposed to me."

"Yes, but I'm serious this time." She was the one Ryan wanted to share the rest of his life with. He could feel it, deep within hisbones.

"|... let's settle on a two year betrothal, alright?" she said with a sheepish smile, as her face regained its original pale complexion."| love you, Ryan, but | think we're skipping a few intermediary steps. We just moved in together, for God's sake."

Well, Ryan guessed it meant he had the time to prepare for the perfect honeymoon. "And if we stay together for over two years?Because we will, and you know it."

Her face beamed like the sun. "Then | will gladly become Mrs. Romano."

That was what Ryan had hoped to hear. He kissed his girlfriend on the cheek, making her blush. "Hypothetically, how do you feelabout having kids?” he asked her. “After we marry, of course."

"| thought you were afraid a child would inherit your powers?"

"| was. But | talked to my Elixir, and it will make sure it won't happen. Though our offspring will probably be even moreoverpowered than your dad."

"Mmm..." Livia thought about the proposal. "| would love to have children one day, yes."“And if they're half of me, you won't see them. Or maybe they'll blur your sight?"

"Whether | can predict their actions or not, | would love them all the same." Livia looked at the twilight sun. "Though | draw ablank about what we should call them. Maybe Iris, if we have a girl?"

Ryan suddenly felt a surge of divine inspiration course through his mind. "If it's a boy, how about we call him Eugen—"

"We are not calling our hypothetical future son after your spoiled cat, Ryan Romano!" Livia exploded in laughter. "You're such agallant fool."

“And you love me for it.""| do," she replied softly, before closing her eyes and moving her face closer to his. "I love you, Ryan."

As their lips met in a tender, gentle kiss, Ryan froze time and counted to ten. He wanted to immortalize this moment in his ownway.

The world turned violet, the shadow of an eldritch pyramid manifesting over New Rome. The purple reflection of a man runningtowards the future flickered into sight, joining with Ryan to fuse past and present into a new history.

The last remnants of the Black Particles inside the Violet Genome to make the save possible without destroying the space-timecontinuum. They escaped his body to ascend towards the heavens above... and as they did, visions filled the courier's mind.Wordless pictures as vivid as a lucid dream, fragments of time itself. They flashed one after another in quick succession, all ofthem showing people the courier had crossed paths with.

He marveled as Len oversaw the cleaning up of Rust Town's atmosphere. The Meta-Gang’s cured members helped clean up theroads, all of them wearing vests with the words ‘community service’ written on their back. Jerome looked happy with themundane menial work, while Helen, Vladimir, and Bianca simply accepted it as temporary penance for old crimes. The likes ofMosquito, the Reptilian, and Rakshasa’s gremlins raised new houses without enthusiasm, but had no say in the matter. RustTown's orphans played with Henriette in a new, green park built over the Junkyards crater.

He felt satisfaction, as the Olympians and their kind wasted away in an underwater prison far away from civilization. Venus ragedin the cell she shared with her husband, while Mars looked through his oceanic window with remorseful acceptance. Pluto read abook with a scowl on her face, while Mortimer, Night Terror, Sparrow and Cancel played a board game in their shared prison. Inhis own cell, Hector Manada wrote letters asking his son to appeal the courts’ decisions. None would be opened.

He watched Enrique Manada oversee a new team of superheroes, one dedicated to the public good. Wyvern smiled at him whileoffering a military salute, while Wardrobe gave Jamie, Lanka, and Ki-Jung their new dazzling uniforms. Soldiers stood at theirside, making a vow to serve the Republic and its people instead of the almighty Dollar. Vulcan overshadowed them all, wearing anew red power armor worthy of a hero of legends.

He gazed at Alphonse Manada floating aimlessly in the void of space, looking at the Earth with heavy regrets. Maybe one day hewould return to it a changed man. He also caught a brief vision of Ghoul’s space cell, and the screaming immortal prisoner withinit.

He cheered as he saw Felix, Fortuna, and Shroud fight a vicious Genome warlord as a team... no, a family. Sunshine and theCarnival took care of the mooks, though none kicked more ass than the Panda among them. After they had won, Mr. Wavepatted the manbear in the back before offering him a black and white cashmere suit.

He observed Alchemo tend to mentally ill patients in a Danish hospital, with the Doll dressed as a nurse. A blonde woman whichRyan recognized as Mathias' mother exchanged words with a sentient toaster, while a mad priest received medical treatment.One day he would find his sanity back... and perhaps the road to redemption too.

He cheered as Simon, Martine, and Monaco's survivors planted the French flag over the rusted ruins of the Eiffel Tower. Faraway, a sphere of reinforced glass isolated a cursed city like a giant snow globe, preventing it from ensnaring anyone ever again.

He watched Narcinia plant a garden in a greenhouse, one that would one day feed millions of people across Europe. His visionexpanded to reveal a new shining city over the ruins of Sarajevo, its construction overseen by the Architect herself. Mightyhumanoid dinosaur workers carried the building material.

He glanced at a strange rabbit running in a purple world, and a blob of darkness floating amidst the void. Both waiting for himbeyond the veil of time, until the end of all things.

“THIS IS THE FUTURE YOU FOUGHT FOR.” The Ultimate One’s voice echoed across time and space, as it vanished fromRyan’s sight. “IT MAY COME TO PASS, OR IT MAY NOT. IT IS ALL UP TO YOU.”

Maybe the deity meant these visions to serve as a warning not to slack off, or as an encouragement to carry on. But whateverthe case, Ryan loved what he saw.

His save complete, time resumed at once, yet the kiss continued. Livia's lips tasted of strawberry, of love and passion.They tasted of home.

And like all good things in this world, the kiss ended way too soon. The couple exchanged one shy glance, and then watched thesun vanish behind the horizon.

Ryan Romano had completed his Perfect Run.

And he was happy at last.

THE END

THANKS FOR COMPLETING THE PERFECT RUN!

[GAME CREDITS]

Author, Game Designer, and Level Designer - Maxime J. Durand, aka Void Herald.Beta Tester and Proofreader - Daniel Zogbi.

Cover Artist - Vitaly S. Alexius.

And my most sincere thanks to all of my supporters on Patreon!START A NEW GAME?

AFTERWORDS

And so it ends.

First of all, | would like to offer special thanks to my long-time editor and proofreader, Daniel Zogbi, whose invaluable feedbackgreatly helped in making The Perfect Run the novel it is today.

As far as | remember, | always had a peculiar relationship with time. One of my first story ideas involved a man with the ability tosee the remaining ‘hours’ of people before their death. | always wondered what would have happened if | could relive my life,make different decisions, etc... | believe everyone has wondered the same at one point or another.

| also pondered how it would feel to relive one’s life again and again. What kind of person someone trapped in an eternalrecurrence would grow into? Would they go mad, or achieve some kind of enlightenment and state of content acceptance, asNietzsche believed? Is there a force greater than us that predetermines our actions, some cosmic order behind the randomnessof existence?

| ended up writing The Perfect Run partly to examine these questions in an entertaining way... and because I’m a huge fan oftime-loop stories, but couldn't find one set in a superhero universe. | always found it weird, like, like superheroes are popular,time-loops too, so why did nobody combine them?

Anyway, so... what was planned, and what wasn’t? | always had the ending in mind. | knew The Perfect Run would always endup with Ryan dueling Augustus and having a chat with the Ultimate One about the nature of time. The Bloodstream case, thelong-term romance with Livia, the nature of Elixirs and the Alchemist, Darkling, all of these were planned from the beginning.

Other things came organically, like the original Jasmine/Ryan romance or the entire Meta-Gang Run (probably the run | had themost fun writing). | had intended to give Lanka and Jamie a greater role, but in the end the Panda, Wardrobe and Felix seizedmore focus because of their chemistry with Ryan. | feel like the plot should always take a backseat to organic characterinteractions, because in the end, it’s the people inside a story who make it feel real.

| know many of you wanted Jasmine back, but... well, her disappearance feels all the strongest because it cannot be undone. |wanted readers to understand how it felt to be in Ryan's shoes; to have the power to turn back time itself, and yet lose peopleyou had grown close to due to circumstances outside your control. To be always one moment away from doing it all over again.

Some believed that the story would end with Ryan’s final death, but The Perfect Run was never about an immortal man lookingto end his eternal life. It was about a gamer achieving his perfect ending; an immortal finding meaning and happiness. It’s nocoincidence that Ryan becomes less maniacal as the story goes, and his loops last longer. He starts not caring about anythingbut his entertainment, numbing his emotional pain with adrenaline, and slowly rediscovers his humanity. By the end, he hasfought something worth fighting for, and he is no longer alone. He has found a family in Len, a new love in Livia, and friends inthe people he met in New Rome.

Ryan has found something to live for.

That was always the point of the ending: that life is beautiful and worth fighting for. That people can lift each other up to reach abrighter future.

So is this the end of the Perfect Run universe? Well, probably not. I've actually been in love with the idea of a Leaf & Seedspinoff for a while (basically a Metroid/western fusion, with a badass female Genius wandering the ruins of post-Genome WarAmerica with her plucky unpowered sidekick), and | will certainly propose the concept in a future Patreon story poll. But that willwait until after either Kairos or my new story Underland are finished; and of course, it will only be a story choice among others.We'll see.

As for Ryan? Well, much like Vainqueur or Walter Tye, his story is done. He has reached the best ending he could, tied up allloose ends, and defeated his strongest enemy. If he reappears in a spinoff, it would be as a secondary character. | have finishedthe story | wanted to tell, and it’s time to let Ryan Romano enjoy his rest.

Because he WILL marry Livia, they WILL start a family, and they WILL live happily ever after.

Otherwise, what's next on the story project? My new story Underland will be up on RR next Tuesday, though it will be verydifferent from my previous works; a shorter Lovecraftian Horror/Dark Fantasy tale with little to no comedy element. I'll be sure topost a link here once it's out, for those who are interested. | hope you'll enjoy this new tale.

So... thanks everyone. Thanks for following The Perfect Run all the way to its conclusion. | hope it gave you great joy, manylaughs, and helped open your mind. | wish you a great day, and | will see you again for Underland.

Best regards,

Your friend Voidy.

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